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When you are expecting a baby you fully expect that your sleep patterns are going to change. Whilst you may have been used to getting a good solid 8 hours sleep a night, you’ll have been told regularly during pregnancy, probably by every single person you meet, that those days will soon be gone for good. You fully appreciate that when you have a newborn in your house you are likely to be woken regularly for night feeds, sit awake watching them breathe, or have one ear on high alert for the slightest of murmurs from their crib, but why is that you are struggling to sleep before your baby is even here?
In the second and third trimester it is common for pregnant women to start experiencing some form of sleep disruption or even pregnancy insomnia. But why? Is this simply your body’s way of preparing for your baby’s arrival, or is there a more scientific reason? What, if anything, can you do to help?
Like many pregnancy symptoms, from strange cravings to morning sickness, you can thank those pesky pregnancy hormones for the onset of insomnia, particularly in the third trimester. This is somewhat ironic, as in reality, this may feel like your last opportunity to get a good night’s sleep before your baby arrives!
Whilst you may find yourself able to fall asleep fairly easily, staying asleep can be a far bigger challenge, and you may find yourself seeing far more of the early hours than you should.
Establish a consistent bedtime routine (yes even for you!). This can help send your brain signals that it’s time to sleep. Try and keep your room as a place for sleeping (avoid watching TV or relaxing there during the day) as this again helps reinforce the message that it’s time for bed.
Reasons for waking regularly may include heartburn or acid reflux, struggling to get comfortable around your growing bump, or even experiencing aches, pains or muscle cramps. You may feel the frequent tightening of Braxton-Hicks and be worried whether your labor is starting early or even find your mind racing with pre-labor anxieties and fears.
Other causes for staying awake include more frequent trips to the bathroom (with your baby pressing on your bladder making the urge to urinate more difficult to ignore!) or feeling hot thanks to your growing internal heating system (particularly challenging in warmer weather).
If you do find yourself lying awake at night during pregnancy, here are some hints and tips that may help:
- Avoid spicy / acidic foods in your evening meal as these may increase the likelihood of experiencing indigestion / heartburn or acid reflux. Instead opt for a slightly lighter meal and a small snack before bed.
- Invest in a pregnancy / maternity pillow to help support your bump as you sleep. Whilst they may look bizarre, and your partner may be slightly put out about how they take over the entire bed, trust me when I say that they really help!
- Look into guided Meditation and Mindfulness / white noise apps to help you doze back off when you wake. Having something to distract your mind and focus on breathing can be really effective and help you switch off.
- Establish a consistent bedtime routine (yes even for you!). This can help send your brain signals that it’s time to sleep. Try and keep your room as a place for sleeping (avoid watching TV or relaxing there during the day) as this again helps reinforce the message that it’s time for bed.
- Try and get some exercise during the day – not only can this physically tire you out, but can help release endorphins and melatonin – the sleep-inducing hormone. Whilst no one’s expecting you to run marathons in the third trimester, a short walk around the block can do the world of good for both your mood and sleep patterns.
- Try not to worry about being tired or start counting the hours – it can be all too easy to keep reminding yourself how tired you are going to be. Instead find ways to still at least get some rest and stay calm.
- Read a book or listen to an audio book just before bed can help relax your mind and sleep may come more easily.
- Avoid using your phone or tablet for an hour before bed and if you wake during the night, as a blue screen can further disrupt your sleep patterns and make it harder to get back to sleep.
If you start to find that pregnancy insomnia is becoming intolerable and affecting your ability to function, seek medical advice. Your practitioner may be able to recommend some herbal or pregnancy safe sleep aids that will help ease the symptoms.